When Lou Reed died on October 27th, he left behind a legacy as nuanced as one of his beloved songs. To pay tribute to the outsider who forever changed rock & roll, Rolling Stone is honoring Reed on the cover of our new issue (on newsstands Friday).
To capture the unique brilliance of the former Velvet Underground frontman and solo artist, Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke combed through his archives of interviews with Reed, spoke to Reed’s friends and peers and uncovered illuminating quotations from Andy Warhol for our in-depth cover story. The issue also features heartfelt remembrances by Reed’s widow, experimental-music artist Laurie Anderson, and his friend, U2 frontman Bono. Each essay provides an alternate view of Reed and explores what he meant to them personally, as well as his impact on the music world.
“New York City was to Lou Reed what Dublin was to James Joyce, the complete universe of his writing,” Bono writes. “He didn’t need to stray out of it for material, there was more than enough there for his love and his hate songs.”
In Anderson’s touching and earnest tribute, she provides an inside look at the couple’s 21-year relationship, covering everything from her awkward first get-together with Reed (“I had no idea this was meant to be a date,” she confides) to some of their most intimate moments. “Lou and I played music together, became best friends and then soul mates, traveled, listened to and criticized each other’s work, studied things together (butterfly hunting, meditation, kayaking),” she writes. “We loved our life in the West Village and our friends; and in all, we did the best we could do.”
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Anderson also boldly recalls Reed’s final days, after the couple learned that the liver transplant Reed had received in April wasn’t working out. What surprised her was how “he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.” Of the artist’s final days in Amagansett, New York, “I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died,” she writes. “His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world.”
Fricke’s cover feature explains the appeal of Lou Reed’s music and captures the intrigue that surrounded the man himself. In Fricke’s words, the Velvet Underground were “arguably the most misunderstood and prophetic band of [the Sixties] in its fusion of severe avant-garde drive and Reed’s frank, gripping songcraft” and Reed’s solo career in the decade that followed was “an extraordinary, unpredictable seesaw of grace and danger.”
In the days following Reed’s death, Fricke spoke with Reed’s former Velvet Underground bandmates Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule, as well as artists like Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, photographer Mick Rock, and producers Hal Willner and Tony Visconti. His piece also culls from interviews Fricke conducted with Reed over the past three decades and archival quotations from Andy Warhol and Reed’s ex-Velvets bandmates John Cale and Sterling Morrison.
“He was to rock & roll what Miles Davis was to jazz – the guy has changed the music a number of times,” Willner tells us. “Whatever he was feeling at the time, he wrote.”
The moving story also benefits greatly from several insightful quotes from the notoriously press-averse Reed. “If you thought of [my work] as a book, then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he had told Fricke. “It tells you all about me, of growing up in the Sixties, Seventies and now the Eighties. That’s what it was like for one person, trying to do the best he could, with all the problems that go along with everybody. Except mine took place in public. And I wrote about that too.”